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Some F-M businesses thrive in remote, hybrid work demand, while others struggle

COVID-19 forced employees from hundreds of metro area offices to work from home. More than two years later, employers are still figuring out the best ways to handle the remote, hybrid and in-person workplaces.

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Blue Cross Blue Shield, pictured Nov. 1, 2022, implemented a back-to-office transition in July 2022. Out of its 925 employees, about 30% are back in the office full time, 25% work completely remote, and nearly half work in a hybrid situation with either two or three days in the office.
Chris Flynn / The Forum
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FARGO — The Fargo-Moorhead business landscape will never return to how it was before the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic sent a wave of employees from hundreds of area businesses home to work remotely, where many of those employees say they found a better work-life balance.

They could go on a morning run instead of commuting 30 minutes to the office, could cook a healthy lunch instead of spending money on fast food, and they learned how much they value the extra time earned with family and friends.

Area businesses have heard these same statements over the past year from their employees. And they’re listening by switching to fully-remote or a hybrid of in- and out-of-office work models.

Industries switching to remote or hybrid include information technology and other desk jobs that rely heavily on internet and communications.

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“Hybrid work has really changed our organization for the better,” said Kelsey Roth, vice president of human resources at Blue Cross Blue Shield . “I think it’s because, with our focus on employee wellbeing, we’re able to provide them opportunities to work where they’re at their best.”

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Kelsey Roth is vice president of human resources at Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Contributed / Blue Cross Blue Shield

At the beginning of the pandemic, Blue Cross Blue Shield sent the majority of its employees home to work remote. Just a couple months into the switch, leadership realized the potential of retaining that model after the pandemic, due to cost-effectiveness and maintained or improved productivity levels.

Blue Cross Blue Shield implemented a back-to-office transition in July 2022. Out of its 925 employees, about 30% are back in the office full time, 25% work completely remote, and nearly half work in a hybrid situation with either two or three days in the office. Between 5 and 10% of employees were working remotely before the pandemic.

“There are a lot of kinks to work out when you’re used to having your team in the office all the time,” Roth said. “We’re adjusting to the fact that we’re never going back to pre-pandemic ways. I think the reality is that leaders need to think differently about how they engage their employees.”

At the same time, it’s easier to recruit and retain workers with a remote or hybrid model, Roth said.

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Chad Flanagan is Fargo market leader for Eide Bailly.
Contributed / Eide Bailly

Eide Bailly , which employs about 300 people in the Fargo area, realized that trend before the pandemic even began. While they did have the capability of remote work pre-pandemic and were slowly shifting, the pandemic accelerated that, said Chad Flanagan, Fargo market leader for Eide Bailly.

“It’s something that excites people when looking at recruitment and retention,” Flanagan said. “The number of applicants is significantly lower for posted positions requiring in-office work than for positions that are remote or hybrid throughout the Eide Bailly footprint.”

Eide Bailly encourages employees to work three days in the office, using that time to intentionally work with team members or clients.

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The company is looking to repurpose its 75,000-square-foot office space at 4310 17th Avenue South. Instead of endless cubicles and offices, Eide Bailly is looking to create more collaborative spaces for employees to gather as teams and work on projects.

Several office spaces are also “hoteling” workspaces, a rentable system where employees or guests can reserve a cubicle for when they are in the office. Based on a survey earlier this year, employees indicated that they also wanted to keep their dedicated work spaces in the office for when they would be in the office three days a week.

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Eide Bailly, pictured Nov. 1, is looking to repurpose its 75,000-square-foot office space at 4310 17th Avenue South in Fargo. Instead of endless cubicles and offices, Eide Bailly is looking to create more collaborative spaces for employees to gather as teams and work on projects.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

“It’s kind of like having your cake and eating it too, but we currently have enough space to offer that,” Flanagan said. “It’s just a matter of growing. Eide Bailly has growth goals of becoming a $1 billion firm by 2030 and a top priority there will be acquiring talent. We will be hoteling more work space eventually with that growth, it’s just a matter of when.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield is experiencing the same question of how to repurpose its office space.

The company owns its 245,000-square-foot building at 4510 13th Ave. South and doesn’t plan to downsize anytime soon. They’re trying to use the space intentionally to bring employees together and build company culture, Roth said.

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The business hosts quarterly management forums in the building, quarterly all-employee meetings, monthly team meetings and lunches, and an annual all-employee celebration recognizing years of service.

“It’s finding that right balance of being at home but also having a social connection with your peers,” Roth said.

About 5% of employees at Blue Cross Blue Shield work remotely outside of North Dakota after the pandemic.

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While hiring remote candidates from across the country can be beneficial for such businesses by expanding candidate pools, Vice President of Workforce and Talent for the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber of Commerce Matt Walstad said the change can affect the overall landscape in the area, including economically and physically.

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Matt Walstad is vice president of workforce and talent for the Fargo Chamber of Commerce Matt Walstad.
Contributed / FMWF Chamber

For example, people living in Fargo can choose to work for a business virtually anywhere in the country or world instead of for a Fargo-based business.

“That can have a number of impacts economically and physically for businesses and people in the community,” Walstad said. “Employees who are taking offers from organizations outside of the state bring in revenue from other places if they choose to still live here — they’d be earning checks from California and spending that money here. There can be an economic benefit for the Fargo area when that happens.”

That can also work the other way if employees outside of the state work for a Fargo-based company.

While such a switch to remote or hybrid is relatively easy for some industries, it’s a struggle for others, leaving them to grapple with a smaller candidate pool of people interested in returning to the office full time.

Smaller businesses and businesses in manufacturing, retail sales and healthcare have had to return to in-person work, Walstad said — either because it’s more cost-effective to have employees on site or because they’re needed for a face-to-face role with clients, customers and patients.

“It’s a struggle, and I think, ultimately, organizations that have the resources are going to be able to perform very well while smaller organizations will struggle,” Walstad said.

Sanford Health is one such healthcare system that has struggled to find workers , especially for nursing. The company is using several resources to expand its candidate pool, including educational programs and hiring internationally.

To address the immediate need for nurses, Sanford is planning to hire 400 international nurses over the next couple years. The nurses will be on three-year contracts at the health care system, which will help stabilize the nursing workforce.

Over 300 international nurses have been hired as of September.

Other healthcare businesses in the area, including blood banks or clinics, are similarly struggling to find candidates willing to work in-person and go through weeks of training, Walstad said.

“They’re working very hard to find those skilled individuals, but the pool of potential candidates here is so small that they’ve had to expand their net and bring in candidates from outside the country,” Walstad said of Sanford.

Now is the time for businesses and industries to audit what can be done regarding remote and hybrid work. For those industries that must rely on in-person work, the Chamber is hoping to create opportunities with local partners in education to connect organizations with such a talent pool more effectively, Walstad said.

“We’re really just starting to see the results and some of the benefits and negatives caused by the pandemic now, and I think over the next three to five years we’re going to understand a lot more,” Walstad said. “We’re going to see more impacts: both good and bad.”

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